What will life be like for working parents after Covid-19?
The new four part docuseries ‘Hillary’ airing on Sky this month, is a four-hour ramble through the career of one of the most famous women in the world, Hillary Clinton.
In episode two we revisited the intense fallout from Clinton’s flippant response to a question about the depth of her involvement in her husband’s first presidential campaign, in the early 90s. ‘I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfil my profession’ she famously quipped.
With that remark Clinton became known as a ‘radical feminist’ – alienating millions of American stay-home-moms in the process. (She reclaimed that line to acclaim in 2016 with Beyonce’s help, no less.) While the whole episode is ancient history, as a working mum who has baked a lot of cookies during the Covid lockdown, I am struck by the paradox that has become my reality in recent months.
Staying home has been the only option. There are plenty of who have made the most of the experience. Sure, home-schooling has been hideous. The pressure of trying to work while caring for small people unbearable. The ‘lockdown-lines’ on our faces attest to how tough it has been. But the pause on frantic normal life has also been a welcome opportunity to reconnect with the kids and that has brought much joy.
We have perhaps coped better too because we’ve felt reasonably comfortable that this is a pause and our ‘old lives’ will return eventually. We’ll be able pick up where we left off, right?
At the end of May, the Fawcett Society bumped everyone back to reality with its assertion that Covid-19 could set working women back decades. With women bearing the brunt of extra domestic demands, and more women than men losing their jobs, the Society warned of an emerging two-tier workplace where men go back to work and women are left at home.
If the Fawcett Society report is accurate, the coronavirus pandemic may have effectively hoovered up tens of thousands of working women up and spat them out somewhere in the 90s. Worst case, women who are itching to get back to ‘fulfilling their profession’ could be stuck at home for the foreseeable.
There is so much talk about how we might benefit from one of the most disruptive periods in modern times, so the idea that we’d go backwards on workplace equality, is a terrible prospect.
Here at Stand our senior team are all mums, and we know first-hand that working life with children in the mix, is extremely challenging. We have always been ahead of the curve with our initiatives to support working parents. But support is much harder to come by in many other sectors. Health and social care, childcare and education for example – all staffed by a female majority – are all at the sharp end of the pandemic now and will bear the brunt for some time to come.
Crisis can be an opportunity for change of course. With so many employers now able to see for themselves what the competing priorities of working parents look like, there is an opportunity for numerous initiatives to make life easier and more enjoyable.
This may still prove to be a watershed moment, as employers catch up with what ‘careerists with kids’ need and begin to make long-lasting changes, not out of desperate necessity, but newfound appreciation of what these powerhouse-parents can do when the support is there. Let’s hope so.
For some the lockdown will be a defining moment, inviting a complete appraisal of work-life balance. Rushing back to the ‘old life’ no longer appeals. Where working parents have the opportunity to collaborate with employers to shape and influence what happens next, a more balanced life is a delightful prospect.
So… has the pandemic set us back or propelled us forward?
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